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An African View on America and the Election

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on October 30, 2020 18:12

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Someone asked me how Africans see President Trump in the context of the current electoral campaign. I am not qualified to speak on behalf of Africans in general, so please remember the 'delete' button on your keyboard, but for as long as I have your attention, here is my reading. 

The fix is in. From suppressing votes by potential opposition areas and halting 'unsolicited votes' to building a majority in the Supreme Court that has voted to block an extension of a ballot deadline extension, the Republican campaign is quite familiar to African observers. After all, voters of these 'shithole countries' know well the personality cults surrounding Africa's big men. Is personalizing the leadership of the country a fallback to tribal monarchies or a recast of colonial Governors? 

Africa is struggling with such Big Man governments, often propped up by superpowers on the basis that "he may be a bastard, but he is our bastard." The French perfected the policy of Françafrique that covered many crimes and corruption, at the cost of the common man. Democratic movements are on the rise, but the road is long and the path steep to the 'city on the hill' many saw represented by America.

A common technique to delegitimize potential opponents resonates in birtherism arguments. When in 1998 a senior IMF official and descendant of ancient west African royalty announced his intention to participate in elections in Cote d'Ivoire, his detractors claimed that he had been born in Burkina Faso and so was inelegible to stand. This was refuted, although borders in French West Africa were fluid. Ouattara was elected, but this rang in a period of instability, ethnic divisions and economic decay that still destabilizes this beautiful country. 

In Africa Big Men appoint officials on the basis of loyalty, not capability. I personally paid the price twice because I made sure the Apartheid Government could not count on my loyalty above good sense and ethics, and the later ANC administration knew I was not one of their ideological stable. A small vignette: a lady appointed from a rural school principal's career to a diplomatic post refusing any training, because if the President has seen fit to appoint her, what did she need training for? In the highly technical diplomatic world she was a disaster. One of many. 

Third termism is also something African observers find very familiar. President Trump's 'entitlement' to a third term is a constant plague on African politics, to the extent that the Economic Community of West Africa recently considered the possibility of declaring a third Presidential term akin to a coup. A common technique is to change the Constitution, with the result that the Presidential term 'resets' to zero. 

Limiting voters and manipulating voter's rolls are common in many African elections. In Congo Brazzaville, for instance, the 2007 elections saw an entire province excluded due to rebel activity there. Although, at the time, the Parliament had approved a law setting up an independent electoral Commission, President Sassou Nguesso had not signed it into law, and so an outdated voter's roll was used. 

I could go on, but let me close: Welcome to Africa. 

PS: President Macky Sall of Senegal announced a referendum to reduce his mandate by two years. Let's hope, let's vote.

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on October 30, 2020 18:12

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Source: Al Jazeera

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